Since Covid-19 turned our daily lives upside down, odds are good that your sleep routine has been wrecked.
Some of us are hitting the sack way too late thanks to work and screen time; others lie awake, stressing about the future.
Even when we finally get to sleep, bad dreams slip in – we can’t tell you how many nightmares of mask-wearing monsters we’ve had.
But in these turbulent times, sleep is more important than ever.
As we all know, inadequate sleep is linked to higher health risks (heart disease, obesity, and a weakened immune system to name a few).
It takes a toll on our emotions as well, as sleepless sufferers are more prone to irritability, anxiety, and even depression.
If cliche advice like ‘turn your phone off before going to bed’ makes you yawn – and not in the good way – it’s time to turn to the sleep experts.
We got Harnoor Kaur Bhatia – clinical psychologist and Meditation & Life Transformation Expert at Kamalaya – to share her tried-and-tested secrets for better sleep.
1. Good sleep starts the moment you wake upPHOTO: Unsplash
Quality sleep doesn’t just start an hour before bed, according to Harnoor – it begins in the morning.
Most of us get up already stressed; as soon as we open our eyes, we’re running through a huge to-do list in our heads.
When this built-up pressure comes crashing down at night, it sends us spiralling into anxiety.
The solution, then, is to start our day with something soothing, such as meditation or breathing exercises.
During the day, Harnoor also recommends journaling to help yourself take stock of your emotional state.
“Stress is like an elephant in the room – you try to avoid looking at it, but of course you can’t.
"Only when you acknowledge what’s giving you stress can you let go.”
2. Breathe into the fearPHOTO: Kamalaya
Are your thoughts still racing with fear and anxiety, even well into the evening?
Take a moment to lie down and get in touch with your body. “Ask yourself: Where in my body am I feeling this anxiety?”
Harnoor says. “Define that area – is it heavy or light, is it like water or stone?
"Start breathing into it and expanding it, till it slowly disappears and leave your body.”
If you need a little more guidance, check out Harnoor’s marvelously soothing step-by-step body scan for stress relief above.
3. Appreciate your day's workPHOTO: Kamalaya
We tend to stress about the tasks we haven’t ticked off before going to sleep, but the wiser option is to think about what you have achieved that day.
Chances are that you’ve done a good job, so go ahead and tell yourself that!
Rather than needlessly freaking out about what you have to do tomorrow, this self-gratitude brings you back into the moment where you feel good about yourself.
That cozy sense of accomplishment is a balm that’ll have you sleeping like a baby.
4. Laughter is the best medicinePHOTO: Unsplash
Screen time isn’t the best idea before bed, but if you could use a spot of Netflix to wind down, skip the thrillers. Instead, hit up the comedy section to get those stress-busting endorphins flowing.
And yes, it’s a cliche for a reason: don’t forget to put your phone away just before bedtime.
If that sounds like a tough feat, start with 15 minutes before and work your way up to the ideal two hours.
“That’s how I started,” Harnoor shares, “and now I can turn it off a whole hour before going to sleep.”
5. Getting back to dreamlandPHOTO: Unsplash
For some of us, the issue isn’t falling asleep; it’s waking up in the middle of the night, cranky yet unable to fall back into dreamland.
Such people, according to Harnoor, tend to be highly motivated and carry a lot of unacknowledged stress; their minds are constantly itching to get straight back into action.
“If you don’t pause during the day, only when you sleep,” she explains, “the brain doesn’t understand what it’s supposed to do.”
This means that any change must start from your daytime routine.
Rather than pressuring your brain to finish that paper, go grocery shopping, or cook in a non-stop whirl, give yourself just three 15-minute pauses during the day.
In these pauses, ask yourself: How am I feeling right now?
We often forget our physical needs – staying hydrated, eating, stretching. In that 15-minute break, you can fulfill that need.
Harnoor herself has a method for ‘pushing’ herself back to sleep.
"I put my hands on my stomach and slowly inhale while counting to three. Say one, two, three in your mind and feel your belly expand. Then exhale on one, two, three and feel your belly go in.”
This grounding technique stops your mind from wandering and stressing, ironically, about how few hours you have for sleeping.
6. Sleeping zone only, pleasePHOTO: Unsplash
If you’re working from home right now, it’s incredibly tempting to lounge in bed with your laptop – but that also means there’s no mental boundary between your rest and other activities.
Harnoor advises doing nothing in bed that doesn’t belong there, be it eating, watching TV, or working.
Turns out that great sleep isn’t just about the night – it’s what we do during the day that matters most.
This article was first published in City Nomads.